Curbside Classic: 1992 Chrysler LeBaron Convertible – Take Your Top Off, Sweetie

There are some words and phrases in the English language in which the intended image immediately springs to mind.  Let’s try one.  Quickly, what comes to mind when you hear “St. Louis”?

Good job.  Let’s try another.  How about “Barney Fife”?

Very good.  Now, lastly, what about “Chrysler LeBaron”?

Not so easy, was it?  Odds are you only thought of this convertible because I primed you to think it.  There were so many variations of LeBaron’s over just the previous decade (or thereabouts), such as the rear drive 1980 model and the K-car based 1986 model.  Even at the time this car was built in 1992, there was yet another LeBaron in Chrysler’s product offering.  Oldsmobile’s shameless use of “Cutlass” during the ’80′s is likely surpassed by Chrysler’s perpetual use of “LeBaron”.

So what is one to make of the 1992 Chrysler LeBaron pictured here?  Introduced in both coupe and convertible forms in 1987 and referred to as a J-Body, it was intended as a replacement for both the Chrysler Laser (think Dodge Daytona) and K-car based LeBaron convertible (think pimped up Aries).  It was so strongly intended as a replacement for the Laser it even used the same dashboard.

Upon its initial introduction, power was provided by either a 2.5 liter four-banger, the big brother of the ubiquitous 2.2 liter engine of 1980′s front-drive Mopars, or the 2.2 liter turbo, an engine Lee Iacocca hawked as a serious contender to any V8.  Transmissions were standard Mopar fare of a three-speed automatic or a five-speed manual.  LeBaron convertibles were built in St. Louis through 1991.

By around 1990, a Mitsubishi built 3.0 liter V6 was offered, as in our featured car.  It was available with the frequently equipped and sometimes problematic Chrysler 4 speed Ultradrive automatic.  A five-speed was still available, even on the V6, but LeBaron’s were infrequently built with one.  For those so inclined, the 2.5 liter engine, with or without a turbocharger, was still available in 1992 as was a limited number of 2.2 liter turbo engines.

1991 brought about an updated interior.  Of particular note is the turn signal indicator seen as a toggle switch emerging from the left side of the dashboard; the steering column is truly that short.

In a sense, this car was a first for me.  Having found it at a family function of Mrs. Lord’s, I was able to sweet-talk the owner into letting me drive it.  Chalk that up as a success.

Opening the heavy doors brings to mind the doors on a ’76 Monte Carlo.  They are heavy.  Getting into the drivers seat can be a little disconcerting.  It is a loooong way down it seems.  Yet, once in, it is quite comfortable with all controls readily at hand.  The seats feel just right, although less so for the geriatric crowd as evidenced by the seat cushion in the picture below.  The weird turn signal requires minimal time to become acclimated to it.

Hit the key and you are greeting with the sweet melodious sound of a Chrysler starter motor.  While not as viscerally pleasing as those from the 1970′s, it is sweet nonetheless.  Think of it as a more refined and mature sound.  Yet you can only enjoy the sound briefly as the engine quickly hits.  This car leaves no question the engine has awakened as it has a nice Cherry Bomb brand muffler outback.  There is a benefit as it does prevent you from grinding on the starter too long.

The transmission engages immediately and has the same whine that I have heard in other Ultradrive equipped Mopars I have driven.  Throttle response is quite good given this Chrysler has 141 horsepower and weighs a breath over 3000 pounds.  The suspension provides a rather smooth ride  although the 14″ tires do remind you on occasion they are on the trim side.

At speed with the top up the LeBaron is fairly free of rattles and squeaks, although a bit of air noise is present.  The 3.0 liter V6 will effortlessly get you to highway speed (and beyond).  But from what I have learned, this car is beginning to show its age.  The instrument cluster shown above is the fourth one on the car in the past year.  It seems the original took fits of having a non-functioning speedometer and/or odometer depending upon its mood.  In turn, the next two replacements were faulty, also.

The windows have posed a challenge.  The left rear window will eagerly go down but good luck getting it back up.  The owner has found it necessary to place a wooden shim between the window and the interior trim to discourage the window from dropping out of sight.

Despite some quirks, this LeBaron is a hoot to drive and it is capable of more than what one might first think.  In addition to this Chrysler, its owner also owns a two-wheel drive Dodge Ram and a Crown Victoria, neither of which flourish in snow.  He lives down a 1/2 mile gravel driveway.  Over the past several winters when the snow was up to 12″ deep, with drifts even deeper, the owner found an alternate use for his Chrysler – it makes a great snowplow for opening up his driveway.  He said you can put the top down and stand up to get a very good command of what is going on when trying to open things up.

I would speculate nobody at Chrysler had contemplated such an alternate use when they aired this spiffy ad about yuppies in loose fitting clothes having a secret rendezvous at a discreet location in the late ’80′s.  Such was the intention of this iteration of LeBaron.

Finding production numbers for these cars has been elusive, although I was able to find 1988 production numbers when approximately 38,000 convertibles were built.  At the time these were new, I do remember an article stating how most of the LeBaron convertibles made were unceremoniously dumped into rental fleets.  That and twenty years will explain why I have seen more of these in salvage yards the last few years than what I have witnessed on the road.

The front and rear of these cars was changed for 1993 with the coupe dropped soon thereafter.  As of 1996, the LeBaron convertible was consigned to the ashes of history.

Yet some are still on active duty with their owner.  Overall, the only complaint the owner stated about the car was how the trunk was a bad joke.  He said it makes a good snow plow but can’t haul too many groceries.